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The Wettest County in the World: A Novel Based on a True Story

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  4,322 ratings  ·  501 reviews
Based on the true story of Matt Bondurant’s grandfather and two granduncles, The Wettest County in the World is a gripping tale of brotherhood, greed, and murder. The Bondurant Boys were a notorious gang of roughnecks and moonshiners who ran liquor through Franklin County, Virginia, during Prohibition and in the years after. Howard, the eldest brother, is an ox of a man ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published December 29th 2009 by Scribner (first published 2008)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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Sep 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First of all, I watched this movie and couldn't get it out of my head, so I completely went out of my genre of reading and bought the book! At first I thought this might be a little mature for me ha ha but once I got used to the writing I was glued. It's like a school book you have to dissect. The who, what, where, whys of what they were thinking? There's so little said about each character or about a scene that you find your self more touched or more fascinated, it's weird, less is more! I felt ...more
Dec 01, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the main story of this book. The main story follows three brothers who are bootleggers and general shady characters in the early 1900s. They grew up as poor farmers in a region that became known for moonshine production during prohibition, and soon became involved themselves. Some of the more interesting pars of the book came from seeing how the three brothers were each differently suited (or unsuited in some cases,) to such a life.

However, the book really fell apart where it tried to
I started listening to this book in audio format, and while I thought the narrator was fantastic, I don't think the novel's structure lends itself to audio. The story of the Bondurant brothers running moonshine during Prohibition is interwoven with the story - several years later - of reporter Sherwood Anderson trying to uncover the Bondurants' involvement with the Moonshine Conspiracy in Franklin County. The shifting of the narrative was confusing in audio, so I switched to the printed text, ...more
Kevin Farrell
Jun 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well, it looks like I am in disagreement with others who have rated this book. The reason is two-fold. I am a fan of bourbon and whiskey; both historically and practically. I am also a fan of historical fiction that takes place in the southern US states - particularly Kentucky. How I got there is not important but this book speaks to me as though it was written for me.

It is a well written story about brothers who made moonshine whiskey in Kentucky and were feared by both their competition and

The Bondurant were not gangsters like that of the suburbs of New York during the prohibition. If anything they were hard workers and if they knew there was a profit the people could make they tried to survive from it.
Considering the unrelenting and unforgiving harsh climate and landscape they lived amongst and around 1918 the people died and lived through some very brutal times, epidemics, they had to be tuff and survive financially with what came their way. There was some very nasty official
Oct 08, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recentreads
This is a wonderfully gritty tale about the home-spun moonshining business during the prohibition years in Franklin County, Virginia. The book tells the story of the Bondurant brothers, three men who lust for money, pine for love, or just yearn to get by. The writing was so lush that I felt as if I were in Franklin County as the events were happening.

Unfortunately, the book was divided (unevenly in my opinion) between past and further past, and it was difficult to determine what was happening
W.H. Johnson
Aug 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some people have all the luck: they have fathers, grandfathers, uncles, all of whom have a back-story, something to talk about down the years, something out of which a writer can make a really good story.

Not me. I seem to have come from an endless line of people who didn’t raise the dust, didn’t make a headline. Except once, when I was about eight, and I heard my mother and father talking. My father was in trouble with the police. It was in the papers. He had been fined 5 shillings for a parking
Liz Clark
Aug 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Bondurant brothers, prohibition, and bootlegging. This story written by the grandson of one of these brothers was great. Each one of the brothers are so very different yet alike in so many ways. Personally, I was so drawn to Forrest. He was a man of very few words yet the words that he did speak were so profound. Howard always seemed like the brother that was on the verge of something whether it be greatness or madness. Then there was Jack. Just trying to make a name for himself while being ...more
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Blurbs comparing Bondurant to Cormac McCarthy do a disservice to Bondurant, whose vision is much more compassionate, humane. I've read several McCarthy books, and except for Suttree, they tend to leave me feeling impressed with the prose but otherwise numb or slightly ill. Bondurant's novel left me feeling enlightened, as well as entertained. He's certainly far, far better as depicting lives of women. His prose is very rich without turning into sludgy baroque, as McCarthy can. Here's a sample of ...more
Jonathan Briggs
Aug 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

All right, NEW RULE: Cormac McCarthy and Irishmen are exempt; everyone else must use quotation marks.

Some writers think incorporating fantastic levels of violence and jettisoning dialog punctuation will win them favorable comparisons to America's greatest living author. They are correct, in fact, but all that proves is that a lot of critics are knuckleheads. Knocking off Dan Brown probably wasn't much of a challenge for Matt Bondurant (or anyone else with a
Nov 09, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009-reads
I had an Advance Readers' Edition of this title, and I was looking forward to reading it. The story is that of the Bondurant brothers, who were involved in moonshine making and distribution during the Prohibition in Franklin County. I find this time in American history to be quite interesting, both from the temperance viewpoint and the viewpoint of those making/selling/smuggling liquor.

Maybe this is a good book, but if it is, I didn't read far enough into it to find out. The Prologue was a bit
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is kind of muddled. Bondurant does not seem clear on whether he wants the book to be a compilation of family stories and legends, a researched novelization of history, or just fiction inspired by actual events. Any of these could have been fine but the different approaches do not work well together. I have seen the movie Lawless and enjoyed it, though it was also nothing that special. I think the movie made a good call in eliminating the Sherwood Anderson story-line, which was boring ...more
I was over halfway through this before I realized that I was reading a book titled The Wettest County in the World in Portland, OR in November, which is a completely different kind of wet :)

This is historical fiction in that, while all the major events in the book happened, they didn't all happen to as few people as are in the book, and some of the events are more family lore than absolute fact, and when you read it it's told from the omniscient perspective, and you know the conversations and
Nov 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel was one of the most gripping reads I have had in the last year. The reason was not because I did not know how it ends. That is hinted at almost from the beginning. It was not because I have a personal connection to Franklin County, VA or moonshining in particular. It was because Matt Bondurant has created a novel where the characters literally breathe and the reader finds themselves caught up, and invested in, the details of their lives.
I would have given this text five stars but for
Jan 10, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not rating this 1 star because Matt Bondurant is a bad writer. He's not. And I like that he wrote a novel based on the lives of his grandfather, two great-uncles and the family stories about them, as well as the local legends about their indestructibility, especially that of Forrest Bondurant. I picked this up on audio because I knew this was based on a true story that I found intriguing.

The reason I'm giving it 1 star is because I hated pretty much every minute of my work commute while I
Kris Aerni
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You will want to take your time reading this novel, it's that good. Mr. Bondurant has a gift of painting sublte, yet vivid mental pictures through his storytelling. He will take you by the arm and lead you through a world in the early 30's when America was in the process of Prohibition. This world is both violent & romantic and just happens to sit in the deep forest mountains of Franklin County, Virginia.

This time gone by setting that "The Wettest County In the World" takes place in, will
Jan 13, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If I could do half stars, I would have given this book a 1.5. The only thing that held my interest was the fact that it dealt with Franklin County history.
I thought the storyline was confusing, randomly jumping between two time periods. It also included another storyline - Sherwood Anderson's time in Franklin County to write a book about moonshining - that could have been left out.
Nov 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A few months back I saw the film Lawless in the theaters and found it to be a pretty good bit of cinema. Director John Hillcoat adapted that film from a novel entitled The Wettest County in the World, and while I had wanted to read the book prior to seeing the film, I was unable to obtain a copy in an orderly fashion and so I went into the theater with nothing to stack the film up against. A few months later I found a copy of the book in a clearance section of the bookstore and I picked it up ...more
Mar 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Personal Response
This was one of my favorite books that I have read in my life. Lawless was very well written and very fun to read.

Lawless was a story about three brothers, Forrest, Jack, and Howard, who ran moonshine in Franklin County, Virginia. While in the search for money and good paying jobs, the brothers found out about running moonshine. They set up a still and got to work. During one transaction, Forrest got jumped and the men slit his throat. Forrest trekked through 12
Paul Pessolano
No, this is not about Hurricane Ike going through Texas. This is a story, based on fact, of a family growing up in Franklin County, Virginia. This county was the seat for White Mule, Firewater, Wild Cat, Stump Whiskey, Rotgut, White Lightning, Moonshine, or whatever you wanted to call it. It is claimed that 99 of 100 people in Franklin County were making, or had some connection with illegal liquor.

The Bondurant family played a major role in not only making moonshine, but also were key players in
LeeAnn Heringer
I picked this novel up in an airport bookshop where it was being heavily promoted and it was alright. It got me through a 4 hour flight. But it wasn't anything great.

The novel tells two stories in parallel, the story of the 3 brothers told from the point of view of the youngest brother (and sometimes the oldest, particularly when he's drunk), and the story of a writer named Sherwood Anderson who came to cover a trial that involved the brothers. But it points to the weakness of the story line
Sep 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I am not sure where to classify this book in my stacks as it is sort of non-fiction, sort of fiction=beautifully written book that the film "Lawless (which I liked very much) was based on. I ended up choosing fiction --it's almost like In Cold Blood--a new type of fiction. Written by a descendant of the famed "Bondurant Boys" whom the book is written about. Poetic language describing the lives of the moonshiners and their families and the other people that live in this rural tobacco farming ...more
Mar 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: NASCAR fans and anyone interested in the real moonshine industry of the 1900's
Recommended to Doreen by: Watched the movie, 'Lawless' and realized it was based upon this book
The story of the Bondurant brothers of Virginia is told as historical fiction, written by one of the grandsons...Matt Bondurant. The writing of this secretive part of our country's illegal activities is both informative and sensational. After all, this is the region that provided oceans of moonshine during Prohibition. And according to Bondurant, the days of stills and moonshine lives on today.

Back to the book...I like the writing. It's descriptive in a very personal way. The relationships and
Sep 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ok, first and foremost, I am a gigantic nerd. I love history-especially 1920's Americana, which is pretty much this book cover to cover. It details a family of bootleggers living in Appalachia during prohibition and therefore contains all of the key components of cool: substance abuse and violence. It is also based on a true story, as the "Bondurant Boys" were the author's grandfather and great-uncles, although he admits that many of the details are poetic retellings birthed of his own ...more
Karlyflower *The Vampire Ninja, Luminescent Monster & Wendigo Nerd Goddess of Canada (according to The Hulk)*

The Wettest County in the World is the story of the three Bondurant Brothers (Howard, Forrest & Jack) who made and ran liquor in Franklin County during the Prohibition and in the years that shortly followed. The History of this story is fastenating and horrifying. Matt Bondurant writes this story with such a grit and brutality that it is almost beautiful.

The story is told in a looping, shattered fashion with chapters skipping about between the years but it is absolutely engaging. The
Aug 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just about my favorite book in a long time. By writing this book as a novel, the author imagined the details of the lives of his own family during prohibition. He went to the the source of the moonshine liquor, avoiding the cliche of the old film noir films with their city gangsters. This book was a little more down home, in a sinister way. The description of the effects of hard liquor on the mind of one of the characters was among the best word pictures I can remember. The reporter who tried to ...more
Dec 06, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I agree with other readers who felt that there is a great story here, but it was slowed by the author's use of a writer trying to research the tale. The time-jumping did not add to or enhance the story, and was rather annoying. I wish the author had just told the story in a more straight-forward manner.

That said, Rick Bragg told a similar tale when he wrote about his bootlegging grandfather in "Ava's Man", a more gripping tale, told by a far better writer about a much more intriguing man.

N.B. -
This is a novel that follows the Prohibition years and just after for the Bondurant clan in Virginia. They were the great-uncles, grandfather of the author. It's gritty and intense rendering of the bootleg alcohol production and distribution and yet also of the particulars of their lives and associations.

The transitions between factions of the story and the Anderson pursuit were choppy. It lost an entire star in that aspect of continuity.

These lives were rough, their physical troubles more than
Kathy Hiester
The Wettest County in the World is based on the true story about three brothers who prepared and sold moonshine during the Prohibition era. The story though set in the hills of Virginia is an out and out gangster story. I wish I could say I loved the book and could recommend it without reservations but honestly the book just wasn’t for me. BUT if rural Southern gangsters have any sort of appeal to you this may just be worth checking out if not put it down and run away.
2 Stars
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On the Southern L...: Matt Bondurant 3 27 Mar 02, 2013 07:26AM  

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